Critical Reflection: Steve Brooks

In October, we were given the privilege of having Steve Brooks give us a talk on creating equality in the media with regards to those that are under represented (in his case those with disabilities.)

In this talk he started off by talking about by giving an example of someone famous who was disabled: Ian Dury, a rock and roll singer who was disabled, where he had to walk with a stick a lot. Yet in his shows this isn’t shown, as Brooks believed that we may have a false idea that a fully able person is self-sufficient. This is because if you are seen to be disabled, there is almost a social repression put against you.

But to just put a twist on things, Brooks went on to say that even though those who are disabled just want to be like everyone else, in fact everyone has something which could classify as a “disability” in the way that it stops us from doing something. This was actually something very surprising to me, as I would of never of thought that every person could have a disability.
Brooks went onto explain what he meant by this, as i know I was a bit confused about what he was referring. He said that there were different types of disabilities, such as:

  • Physical
  • Sensory
  • Intellectual
  • Mental health and emotional
  • Development

I managed to clock onto what he meant by the generic disability when he mentioned mental health: straight away I started to think of those with OCD, paranoia, bi-polar etc. Even those these aren’t a physical problem, they are a disability for those that it affects. But it’s funny to think that in society today we wouldn’t actually class them as a disability, unless we actually believe them to be disabled. So Brooks suggest that perhaps we need to get rid of the term disabled and replace it with “differently abled”.  I think this is a big ask, because society has built up the point where this term is used so much we are associated to it. To suddenly change is a big ask where society will probably reject this; yet I do understand where Brooks is coming form though.

Brooks then went on to further his point on the idea that those with disabilities are under represented by moving onto the world now within television and advertisement. You may not have realized it, but actually in the adverts today no one who is disabled is shown at all. This is actually quite prejudiced as these companies are in fact trying to make the best possible advert, but are really creating a false sense of humanity; they are really just wiping out a whole sector of society by not including them.
However, there have been a few occasion where the “disabled” have been shown in television; in the 1980’s a few people in wheelchairs were shown. But it just wasn’t based on the fact to include them, but rather there was a hidden agenda; putting these adverts in black and white made them much more serious in highlighting points. So these people were having their bodies used to get a point across in the best way possible, as the adverts wanted to draw the feelings from the audience. So what better way then to get them to feel sorry and emotional by putting those which society sees as lower?

In the media, there are multiple stereotypes in the media:

  1. Object of curiosity and violence
  2. Sinister
  3. Super-cripple
  4. Atmosphere
  5. Laughable
  6. Her/his own worst enemy
  7. A burden
  8. Non-sexual
  9. Unable to take part
  10. Pitiable and pathetic – Most common one used by charities

One of the problems with advertising, photography and any lens based media is that the lens changes the subject; the person behind the lens has all the power and can manipulate the picture to what they want it to be. So the subject becomes a much more pitiable person which isn’t helpful when it comes to creating equality.

So I think what needs to be done today is to let everyone be who they are; no acting (well some will be needed) but you shouldn’t make someone be who they aren’t. Brooks used an example to highlight this point in saying Nike is one of the leading companies who include the disabled in their adverts. This is actually quite key as for a major sports brand, they highlight that everyone is the same no matter what and can make what they want.
And its been proven that audiences tend to have a better reaction to adverts that include the disabled, so it raises the question: Why aren’t they included more often?
What it may come down to is that actually companies want to present the “perfect” image towards the public; they want to highlight the product in the best way possible, why would they want to limit themselves by having someone who is limited in one way or another?

So really, we have to think about who is to blame for this under representation? Is it a social problem in which we have gotten used to seeing the “perfect” that we don’t want to experience change at all. Or maybe it’s down to a medical point of view in that a disabled person might not be able to do it at all? Or that we actually there isn’t enough support from everyone to try and push this image further.
What it really boils down to, in my opinion, is that we all need to put a better effort into helping out. We can’t just sit around and talk about it, there needs to be a further pursuement into helping out. And this goes for every group in the media that aren’t represented that much at all.

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